There was a time when Southeastern Pennsylvania served as fertile terrain for Penn State coach Joe Paterno. There was a time all Paterno had to do was show up on a recruit's doorstep and it was over - the young man was Happy Valley-bound.
Paterno and Penn State were synonymous with one another. Along with integrity and winning football. Being a Nittany Lion was once the dream every high school player seemed to have.
Now with the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal and the heavy sanctions being levied upon the Penn State program today by NCAA President Mark Emmert, it has some players from Penn State's back yard wondering about Penn State in the future.
Everyone knew what was coming, it's just that no one knew the extent to which the NCAA would come down on Penn State until Emmert made the announcement Monday morning.
Penn State went from a powerhouse football program to possibly resembling the North Texas Armadillos, thrown into a dark age for four years, with an average of 10 scholarships being taken away each year, no bowl eligibility and a $60-million fine levied tossed at the program. Players can transfer out of the program if they want, and not sit out a year
Two Philadelphia-area players have already committed to Penn State, Roman Catholic wide receiver William Fuller
and Council Rock North defensive end Curtis Cothran
, though both players are uncertain about their commitments to the school.
Haverford School linebacker Matt Galambos
, who's received offers from Temple, Rutgers, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, and attended Penn State's camp, grew up a Penn State fan. He dreamed about playing at Beaver Stadium for Joe Paterno.
That dream has been shattered.
"Growing up, I was always a Penn State fan and that's changed with everything going on right now," Galambos said. "I don't see anything in my eyes from them. It's tough [to look at Penn State] with the sanctions against them. That changes everything. I once lived and breathed Penn State football; they used to be me favorite school.
"I feel like they're going in the right direction with the new coaches and changing the direction of everything, but they have to make changes first on the inside. That means something to me. It's not all about football, especially with the victims involved. It's why I'm also looking at schools like Yale and Harvard." La Salle College (Wyndmoor, Pa.)
coach Drew Gordon has built a state-championship contender each season. He's stood back and watched all of this unfold, shaking his head.
"What my opinion would be is that [new Penn State coach Bill] O'Brien took that job with blinders on; you're looking at a program that might as well be faced with a death penalty, and that's what it really is," said Gordon, whose Explorers have played in two of the last three PIAA Class AAAA state championships. "From a football standpoint, it's almost like they're going from a major program and dipping to Division I-AA that's playing in the Big 10. Eventually, the depth will kill you after a few games. How do you compete? It's not the death penalty, but it's almost like a slow death. I've lost respect, from a personal opinion, when the Freeh Report came out. It's the worst thing that could come out."
But a number of coaches would still send their players to Penn State. Gordon didn't rule it out, and neither did George Washington (Philadelphia)
coach Ron Cohen, the dean of Philadelphia-area high school coaches.
"Let's face it, athletics on that level is a business, and I tell all my players that if they have an opportunity to play Division 1, to do it," Cohen said. "I had a kid who had a good experience at Penn State, with bowl games and traveling the country.
"Despite the situation, I wouldn't discourage a player from going to Penn State, and I'm not pro NCAA by any means, because some of the things they do. The limited scholarships will no doubt hurt Penn State, but if one of my kids is offered a scholarship from Penn State, I wouldn't discourage it. The program is not at fault, the former administration is guiltier than anything. Thank God Joe Paterno wasn't around to see this."Neshaminy (Langhorne, Pa.)
and Penn State have a long history. Brothers Matt and Chris Bahr kicked for Penn State and went on to play in the NFL. They're Neshaminy graduates, as is Kevin Kelly, Penn State's all-time leading scorer.
"I wasn't shocked when I heard about Penn State, because unfortunately, everything seemed to be leaking out over the past couple of days," said Neshaminy coach Mark Schmidt, who coached Kelly. "That kind of penalty knocks a program back 15 years. I would say at least that. The only bright spot the guys at Penn State have is the fact the new guy, Bill O'Brien, has come in and established himself before all of this became public.
"Everyone has to gotten know him and his staff and what everyone is trying to do. Coach O'Brien isn't good, he's excellent. Think about this, even with the question marks, kids have been committing left and right to Penn State. I hope coach O'Brien keeps it in a good direction, because I would tell a kid to take a good look at Penn State. The new regime is in, and the whole issue that went over there is no longer there."
That's not enough for some kids.Aron Morgan
, a Haverford School senior and among the best kickers in Southeastern Pennsylvania, was talking to Penn State. Not anymore.
"I don't know. I have talked to Penn State and what happened has changed my perspective a little bit," Morgan admitted. "I honestly don't think I would go there, because so much has happened there. With no bowl games, with the fines and scholarships taken away, there is so much scrutiny on them. That program is probably going to go down for the next 10 years. From what I've heard from other guys, no one is thinking about Penn State anymore. Before this, everyone wanted to go to Penn State. That was their dream, playing in front of 105,000 people in Happy Valley. Now they're not even thinking about it."
Penn State was interested in stellar Downingtown East quarterback Kyle Lauletta
, 6-foot-3, 215-pound senior who is one the top quarterbacks in Southeastern Pennsylvania, once fertile territory for Paterno. Nittany Lions assistant coach Ron Vanderlinden, one of two coaches retained from Paterno's staff by O'Brien with Larry Johnson, had visited Downingtown East during the spring.
"At this point, from everything I understand, I wouldn't go to Penn State, if I had to make a decision right now," said Lauletta, who's receiving attention from a numerous Division 1 schools. "Back in May, coach Vanderlinden said I was in the running for a spot. It shocks me what's gone on at Penn State. I was more shocked to hear the statue was coming down. I still respect the program and what's happened there. I don't think it will affect them that much. But I have other choices I'm thinking strongly about."Haverford Township (Pa.)
coach Joe Gallagher was once recruited by Joe Paterno in the early 1970s. Gallagher was part of one the greatest high school teams that ever played in Pennsylvania, the 1972 St. James Philadelphia City Championship team [with future NFL all-pro Joe Klecko]. Paterno had recruited Gallagher's older brothers, Jimmy and Frank, who went on to play at North Carolina. Gallagher himself went on to play for Tennessee.
"Knowing everything that's gone on, it's going to be tough for Penn State," Gallagher said. "I would never advise a kid to do one thing or another, but there are a lot of things to consider; what happened here hurt the program and there's no way it doesn't hurt the program. If a kid believes very strongly in Penn State, and O'Brien seems like a quality guy and a quality coach, that he won't run out on a kid, I would advise a kid to look at Penn State.
"It comes down to a kid having a great love for the school. I know a lot of kids aren't crazy about this. I don't want to see kids get hurt and kids keep getting hurt through this whole thing. As hard as it is for me, I always loved JoePa, but if they covered things up, it's not good. Through this, there are innocent kids again that are going to be hurt that don't deserve to be hurt. That's the current and future Penn State players."
Perhaps the biggest heartbreak comes to players like four-time Super Bowl champion and Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris, who lives in Pittsburgh, yet still bleeds blue-and-white. The former Penn State great has defended Paterno to the hilt, and was crestfallen to hear the news about the suspensions.
"I could care less about the NCAA," Harris said. "They're a body that doesn't believe in due process also. They're like [Penn State's] Board of Trustees and [Penn State's] administration. They don't believe in due process. So I could really care less about them.
"They're going to make certain decisions based upon the Freeh Report, and as I said, I feel there are a lot of holes in the Freeh Report, a lot of holes. They could care less. I think it's really a shame. I think it's something that everybody should be really afraid of, that someone with their power will take this and do this particular thing based on that, and no due process. Everybody should be afraid."
It's not the death penalty, but in a sense, it is.
"There's no due process, and people that accept no due process, I have a problem with," Harris bristled. "I have a problem with the NCAA. In this Joe Paterno situation, I am not a big fan of the NCAA or the Big 10, and it is very disturbing that to even consider taking that action before due process has really happened. How people can take the Freeh Report without the major players being interviewed, that's very, very disheartening that people jump on this, and believe in this. Very disturbing. They could take the statue down, but they can't take the man down."